Change is hard…until it isn’t.
Plastic shopping bags, your time has come to pay your freight, at least at Walmart. It is indisputable that plastic bags have a terrible impact on the environment (and perhaps humans via the food chain), even if they might be more efficient to manufacture than other bagging options. Still, this isn’t why Walmart should implement a change to the way it handles product bagging.
Walmart is an Every Day Low Price (EDLP) brand, a strategy which it delivers through Every Day Low Cost (EDLC). Giving away free plastic bags is in opposition to this strategy. Rather, it is a convenience benefit to Walmart customers, which is built into the price they pay for items. As anyone that traverses a 6+ acre parking lot knows, Walmart is not a convenience store. By simply charging .25¢ per bag, Walmart could change consumer behavior and ultimately lead the global retail industry in moving to a more sustainable options. Plastic bag usage has dropped a whopping 85% in the UK since it instituted a 5 pence charge. That’s 7 billion bags down to 500 million in just 6 months. Perhaps more importantly for Walmart, is the ability to reinforce its brand by converting the money it saves and translates it into lower prices, a true statement of its brand promise.
Leadership by the world’s largest retailer against this effort would have another huge effect as well. A choice like this would create relevancy for Walmart in a time of declining top of mind awareness as retail shifts from physical to digital. The combined brand, financial and talk value of such a change would be enormous and, if positioned correctly, could be a strong loyalty tool for existing customers and give non-customers a reason to shop at Walmart.
A recent study found aspirational consumers want to support purpose driven brands but are having trouble finding (and naming) ones that align with that value.
Communities across the country are already taking action and banning bags altogether — including San Francisco, New York, San Diego, Washington D.C. and others. A Walmart initiative on shopper behavior change could drastically cut bag usage, while still giving customers a choice of how to manage their items. It could even create a Good Exchange to help benefit environmental organizations, like the Surfrider.org, by donating some of the funds raised through bag sales, creating shopper driven shared value. This would also help to strengthen the formidable reputation and Share-of-Voice Walmart has built around sustainability and increase cause related Brand Warmth.
All of this for a simple quarter. Of course, it isn’t that simple. However, Walmart could make it so, and through its example, even change the entire industry!
Originally published at medium.com on August 6, 2016.